November 17, 2009
By Valeree Dunn
What do free love, overpriced text books, and cheap fast food all have in common? The college experience.
A considerable number of college students put extreme concentration on their studies. Though for a vast majority of students, college is a time of exploration and experimentation. Many students are still learning about who they are, while contending with issues like being away from home, making decent grades, and learning about the opposite sex.
During the day many college aged women are studious, friends and family-oriented, and well-mannered. At night, though, college women assume a different demeanor, and when it comes to the opposite sex, many take on the role of the contemporary player in a defiant equality.
Dating patterns of college-aged women may or may not be changing. While research shows that overall dating patterns of women have not changed, some college-aged women view their lives very differently than what research suggests.
These young women have dating stories and theories they are so anxious to share, but reservations about social norms taint open discussions in polite company.
Margaret Oltman, a senior at UIS, says that the dating patterns of her peers have shifted drastically.
“It’s all about self-seeking fulfillment and instant gratification these days,” Oltman said. “There’s a lot more just hooking up.”
Many college-aged women are beginning to take an aggressive approach to dating, engaging in reckless behaviors more characteristic of teenagers. Oltman says there’s good reason for this.
“This isn’t like high school. In college you have no one to answer to. Except for the girls who flaunt it, no one ever really knows your business.”
Among these young women this method of interaction with the opposite sex is common. According to Oltman, most people will start spending time together and “hooking-up,” while still seeing other people.
“It’s kind of backwards, but you don’t want to take a risk, and everything has to be right now. People want instant gratification, so most of the time they just hook-up and commit later,” Oltman said.
Another UIS senior, Chris Florence, says he’s more old-fashioned about dating, but he sees a lot of these behaviors in his peers. “I feel that people have become a lot looser,” he said. “People use making-out and hook-ups to gauge whether they like someone.”
While most college students are insistent that dating patterns have changed, even the most current research continues to show they are very similar to in the past. Communication Assistant Professor Beth Ribarsky’s area of expertise is in romantic relationships.
She offers one explanation for the apparent shift. “I think there is more openness about talking about the dating process, and [women’s forward sexuality] is more readily accepted,” Ribarsky said.
Ribarsky suggests that these patterns haven’t changed, but people are beginning to talk about it more openly within their social circles.
“I think girls are just as open as guys any more. They can be really graphic sometimes,” Oltman said.
The social taboos, while still rigid, become more relaxed in the college atmosphere. Women begin to change how they view themselves, particularly during the dating process.
“It’s becoming less that girls are as attached,” Florence said.
These women often begin to relax their relational expectations in lieu of this self-seeking fulfillment.
“I think the biggest factor is just the ambiguity surrounding the dating process,” Ribarsky said. “We know what to expect, we just don’t know what to do.”
And there lies one crucial element to this dating scene. Dating patterns have not necessarily changed, and people continue to have the same expectations of social norms in dating. And although people continue to have these expectations, they don’t usually follow normative patterns themselves.
So although the expectation is that a gentleman will hold open a door for a lady, men don’t always do so and women don’t always demand it.
These expectations are all encompassing, but because the dating script is relatively the same as it has always been, people are seeing the results of these expectations drop dramatically.
This provides a particularly interesting effect in women. While they still do have these expectations of dating in society, they aren’t engaging in the traditions. Most people will go out on a typical first date with an outline of the old dating script in mind—dinner and a movie, kiss at the door, goodnight.
At the very rudimentary level these romantic encounters are no different than a date fifty years ago. A deeper look shows that men and women are increasingly engaging in interactions, conversations, and behaviors that were once reserved for monogamy, or at the very least, the legendary third date.
In college students though, the dating process shifts and most people don’t typically go out on real dates. So while typical dating scripts are still in effect, there’s some dissension because typical dates are not what they used to be.
“Dating isn’t the same of what it was because it has become an informal process in today’s culture,” Ribarsky said.
These traditional expectations break down in the informalities of culture.
While these outlines of expectations are in place, people tend to break these expectations at every turn. Most people have social expectations in dating, break these expectations, and additionally, their dates themselves break these expectations, which all leads up to disappointment when no one’s true expectations are being fulfilled.
“They’re setting themselves up for that relational dissatisfaction,” Ribarsky said.
One of these relational expectations is the idea that most women are still looking for that “romantic fairytale.” Ribarsky said that although most women are now very independent and intelligent, they still have that desire to be taken care of. But because these expectations are constantly being defeated, they aren’t having those needs fulfilled.
These changes in expectation fulfillment have possibly spurned revolutions in the way women are reacting. The dating arena is starting to see a leveling of the playing field now and women are taking a more aggressive role in dating.
Ribarsky said that men expect the traditional role more than women do, and that most men haven’t caught up with women changing.
Florence says that he has noticed that girls definitely take the lead. “I have never honestly pursued a girl,” he said.
These shifts in aggression speak to many women as an empowerment. The theory of third wave feminism could also include this phenomenon.
More empowerment tools in the popular self-help books such as, “He’s Just Not That Into You,” “The Four Man Plan,” and “Don’t Be That Girl,” could also be to blame.
Jessica Brustad, a sophomore at Western Illinois University says that the book “Why Men Love Bitches” has been invaluable in shaping her attitudes about dating.
“I used to be a really clingy type of girl,” Brustad said. She said the book has helped her to relax and to not take dating so seriously.
This relaxation in views on dating is what many college women find both empowering and confusing.
“Women are engaging in these activities, but that’s not what they really want,” Ribarsky said.
Whether they want it or not, college students are finding that their dating patterns do deviate from the societal norms. And while these dating patterns may not make people happy in the long run, many expect that these patterns will eventually fade into a background of what made them happy in their college experiences.
And while not all college students engage in these behaviors, the stereotypical main components of college are still are, and may always be, free love, overpriced text books, and cheap fast food.